Chinese Dialects: Final System

Vol. 34 No. 2   12/2004   


Chinese dialects: Final System


Kuang-yu Chang









Key words

Chinese dialect, final system, geographical investigation, historical developments


       The number of finals varies greatly from one dialect to another in china. The largest stock (94) is found in Foshan, Guangdong; the least (22) in Binchuan, Yunnan. Extremes aside, the general tendency indicates that the figure decreases as one travels from the south to the north or from the eastern coast westward into the inlands. As a break from the traditional exercises, in which vertical comparison dominates Chinese dialectology, this paper demonstrates how a horizontal comparison can be put into practice to derive the various modern forms. In this respect, I find Hoenigswald’s remark most inspiring; he said: “It should, however, be understood that neither the comparative method nor internal reconstruction depent on written record.” (1911:187) the same tone is also echoed in Crowley (1997:111): “The written records do not provide us with the same forms that the comparative method leads us to reconstruct.” Examples that were used by Crowley to arrive at his conclusion are drawn form the Latin language, but I think the same principle holds true in other language family as well. In an era when vertical comparison monopolizes the entire realm of Chinese dialectology, phonological rules are a wooly matter phonetic motivation not so much a concern. Last but not least, a few words about “Uniformitarianism”; as Rankin (2003) puts it: “the method also relies on the more general scientific notion of uniformitarianism, here the understanding that basic mechanism of linguistic change in the past (e.g., phonetic change, reanalysis, extension, etc.) were not substantially different from those observed in the present. Most linguists operate with this as a given and it has not received detailed treatment in most studies of language change, but without the assumption of uniformitarianism, reconstruction would not be possible.” Much ink has been spilled about methodology, and I hope the above quotes should give readers useful guidance clear enough to get down to the bottom.



Author: Kuang-yu Chang
Genre: Article